As readers of this blog already know, we are HUGE advocates of musical theatre in schools. But we are also the first to admit that putting on a musical is hard work, especially for the teachers. It is the teacher who is usually expected to be the director, choreographer, stage manager, and producer; all while still being a teacher!
That is why we have asked Kimberly Patterson, the Theatre Arts Teacher and Performing Arts Chair at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, to write this series for our Spotlight On Musicals blog.
The series will outline the process of putting on a musical from start to finish, providing helpful tips and maybe even some new ideas. Topics will include:
- Applying for a license with a publisher
- Budgeting and creating calendars
- Assembling your team
- Running rehearsals with a student crew
- Working with your technical theater team
- Managing the house
…and many others. Whether you’re a seasoned producer of school theatre or you’re just starting out and have suddenly been put in charge of it all, this series will have something for you.
Thus far, we’ve posted PART 1: Selecting a Show & Securing Performance Rights, PART 2: Creating Your Documents, PART 3: Assembling Your Team, PART 4: Casting, PART 5: First Rehearsal, and PART 6: Table Work. Now it’s time for…
You’re digging in, right in the thick of it. You’ve got a rehearsal schedule, a scene breakdown, blocking notes, a prop list, and your Kim and Conrad Birdie are mastering the fine art of rock & roll dancing. You lead warm-ups at the start, guide character development exercises during rehearsal when actors get stuck, and gather for thoughtful reflections at the end. Even if things might not be running quite as efficiently as you’d hoped, your production is shaping up to be a success. Still, every superhero can benefit from a sidekick, and as a director, yours is the stage manager.
The Stage Manager
I hope you take full advantage of this member of your team: a good stage manager can be a big help, and a great stage manager can make your job feel effortless. (I didn’t say it would be, but it can sure feel like it). Younger crew members usually have a strong understanding of how a stage manager might work if he or she is backstage during a rehearsal, and they typically understand that it’s their job to take notes and give actors their lines, but there’s so much more that they can and should be doing during this time. Hopefully you’ve already got a stage manager (or a team of stage managers) to do these things during rehearsals. If not, feel free to add to their responsibilities, but remember that this list is far from exhaustive!
Stage Management Duties
- Create a contact list and keep it up-to-date, including names, phone numbers, and email addresses for parents—email distribution lists can make sure no one misses an announcement
- Publish, share, and update the rehearsal schedule: remind actors who is called and what material will be covered; collect information from the cast if there will be absences or delays AND share that information with the director before rehearsal begins
- Maintain a sign-in sheet and ensure that everyone present signs in and out; not only is this important for the play, but can be useful for tracking any Thespian points or community service hours (and is also useful in an emergency, but hopefully never necessary)
- Prepare the room for rehearsal: set up and organize furniture or set pieces, make sure there’s adequate lighting over the playing space, and make sure there are a few chairs and a table for the creative team to use during the process
- Tape out the basic floor plan of the set, or at least indicate measurements and where there are places to enter and exit
- During rehearsal, take notes as needed by the director and step in for any missing performer as needed
- Manage the prompt book, a master guide to all of the blocking, set changes, technical cues, and other prompts; this guide should be so comprehensive that if the director is absent, anyone familiar with the show can supervise a rehearsal
- Watch the clock so the director remembers to give breaks and to end on time
- Tidy up at the end of the night, and return the space to its previous condition (if not better)
- File the rehearsal report and send it to the cast and crew
In terms of note-taking and related support, this list can apply to any “sidekick,” like a dance captain or an assistant designer.
If you have a mature, responsible stage manager, you can leave him or her to run lines or review scenes with cast members while a choreographer teaches a featured dancer, a music director polishes up a solo, and you work on a complicated section with actors. You can also divvy up time during rehearsal for the cast to have fittings with the costume designer, practice a special effect with the technical director, or work with the sound engineer on a mic hand-off process. Your stage manager can help to facilitate this process as well.
The rehearsal report will tell everyone involved with the production what happened that night: how many scenes or pages were covered, who was absent, what significant changes were made or important questions raised, and when the next rehearsal will be and what the focus will be. It should absolutely be sent before the next rehearsal, and is most useful if it is received the next day.
Once you get into tech week and start your production, the stage manager’s role will change (something we’ll explore in a later post), so if you’d like to break down the job into two parts, use one person as your rehearsal stage manager (you might call them an assistant director) and the other as a production stage manager. The most important thing to take away is that no one person should feel overwhelmed—including you.
Part 8: Production Decisions
Kimberly Patterson is a two-time graduate of New York University, with an undergraduate degree in Dramatic Literature, Theater History and the Cinema, and a Masters Degree from the Gallatin School. Her program in Individualized Study focused on performance studies, dramatic writing, and technical theater, and her coursework included scenic design, puppetry, and “ritual-as-performance.” She spent more than a decade in New York City working in Off- and Off-Off Broadway theaters in almost every capacity possible. As a playwright, her plays have appeared in the New York International Fringe Festival and the New York Musical Theater Festival; her musical, Oedipus for Kids!, is published by Samuel French and has been produced around the U.S. Kimberly has extensive experience working with educational technology, and has managed online content and curriculum development for McGraw-Hill, ProQuest Education, and Curriki.org. When not working behind the scenes in Oxbridge’s auditorium, Kimberly plays Japanese taiko drums and is a performing apprentice with Fushu Daiko.